Don’t Call Me Cutie 👄

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve written a blog post so it makes sense that this is a LONG blog post. It’s been brewing for a while and has been delayed while a few things have been going on in the background and by the fact that I’ve been lazy AF. It’s also been a difficult post to write rather than bashing the keyboard to create a messy, sweary, and generally unpleasant rant which it could very easily have been.

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Regular readers will know that I cannot stand the state of the so called “fitness industry” and surrounding social media. It seems to be full of brands akin to snake oil merchants and social media “influencers” selling and promoting absolutely anything to get paid while Daddy sorts out their credit card bill.

Through social media I stumbled across one of the worst cases of this that I’ve ever seen…I’m talking Boombod and Skinny Coffee Club bad. Cute Nutrition claim to be the “UK’s #1 Female Nutrition Brand” and say their brand “combines a fun, approachable and aspirational image with a reminder that the products alone DO THEIR JOB”.

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Image: cutenutrition.com

Their branding is garishly pink with hearts, lipstick, and awful terminology plastered alongside photos of super slim women with tans, big boobs and bums, who are all doing their best Leslie Ash impersonations to ridiculously depict an image that the brand deems “aspirational.”

These attributes combine to promote a range of products including weight loss shakes, fat burning pills, craving suppressants, tanning pills, detox teas, and booty bands – essentially a range of products that nobody actually needs and that for the most part have only come to the fore via social media. Each product page is littered with ludicrous, unethical terminology, and unsubstantiated claims. A few samples below for you:

Claims

Immediately I knew I was going to get in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) with my concerns but I wanted to get in touch with Cute Nutrition beforehand to see if they could answer my questions. I raised my concerns in a well-drafted email (if I do say so myself) and asked for a response before getting in touch with the ASA. It’s fair to say I was pretty shocked by the response from their CEO:

“Before this goes around in circles in your “beliefs” and the business of Cute Nutrition feel free to give me a call on [mobile number] anytime between 1-3pm today before your “threat” backfires into public slander and oxford fitness is no longer 🙂

 Alternatively we can arrange a meeting with myself and one of my contacts at the ASA who I deal with.”

[END]

Defensive much?

I let them know I didn’t have time for a call a call and believed it to be more useful to have all of the information in writing. I also flagged that sending consumer concerns to the ASA is hardly a “threat”.

They next offered to drive and meet with me, but again I just wanted some basic questions answered. After I suggested I contact their parent company based in Belgium (thanks Companies House), the CEO did send me answers to some of my questions. For the most part it felt like a “no comment” police interview…hang on, doesn’t that usually imply some kind of wrongdoing?

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Image: cutenutrition.com

The Q&A is below. You’ll see that I categorised them because I’m crazy like that. Just be warned, though, that this makes for painful reading.

The text has been pasted from my original emails with their CEO, with the only amendment being a change in their font colour so that it’s on-brand for them (you’re welcome, CEO man):

Branding, Messaging, and Advertising

Q: On what basis are you the “UK’s #1 female nutritional brand”?

A: Insignificant question.

Q: Other than female-led branding, how are you products more suitable and for women than men?

A: Insignificant question.

Q: Can you clarify how your products alone “DO THEIR JOB”? This gives the impression that all that someone needs to do is use your products and they’ll lose weight.

A: Please see testimonials online.

Q: In what way do you believe the image in this link to be “fun, approachable and aspirational”?

A: For customers that shop with Cute, this image is appealing.

Q: Can you provide evidence of the legitimacy of the pop up banners showing recent purchases? This is something the ASA will be particularly interested in as part of my report.

A: I, unfortunately, cannot give you back-end access to our website account. Proof can be given to legal teams without any hesitation.

Q: You claim that your products are manufactured in facilities of the highest standard. Please can you provide evidence of this and on what standards this is based?

A: Our suppliers are all registered to ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 22000:2005 as well as an Informed Sport Registered Site.

Q: Do you feel that your message is ethical? With statements such as “Do you feel self-conscious when you look in the mirror? Lose weight easily and conveniently with our meal replacement shake” it very much seems you are specifically targeting a market that is vulnerable and needs help. You do not mention energy balance and exercise. Again it only gives the impression that all people need is your products and that they will no longer feel self-conscious.

A: Your views.

Q: How do your products make people “Get Cuter”? This is a subjective and intangible term that needs changing. Again, one for the ASA.

A: More than happy to change if you feel like this is damaging.

Burner Capsules

Q: The main ingredients in these capsules are guarana (a stimulant) and magnesium oxide (a laxative). Can you provide evidence on how these boost metabolism and will have no side effects?

A: Happy to talk through claims with suppliers and ASA.

Q: How do these help you feel full and take the edge of sugar cravings? I see no ingredients or studies to support this.

A: Insignificant question.

Q: What is a fat burning cylinder?

A: Insignificant question.

Slim Body Shakes

Q: These shakes are 130 calories each. With two of these shakes at 260 calories, you are promoting an extremely low, dangerous, and unsustainable energy intake. How do you believe this promotes long-term health and an understanding of energy requirements?

A: A meal replacement if read is to be taken with 250ml skimmed milk. The total calorie count of 213 per shake. In line with legal requirements.

Q: How is the contents of two shakes deemed to be “the perfect amount of energy and nutrients”? On what requirement is this based?

A: As above.

Q: These shakes contain just over 10g of protein per serving. With protein key to preserving muscle mass and widely studied to show it increases satiety, how do these shakes help you “feel fuller for longer”?

A: Insignificant question.

Craving Crusher

Q: Please, can you provide a full nutritional breakdown of these capsules to show the mg of each active ingredient?

A: Available online.

Q: Please provide links to studies that prove Glucomannan and Chromium Picolinate “boost metabolism and promotes fat loss”.

A: Maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels, and to the contribution of glucomannan in the reduction of body weight.

[END]

So…THOUGHTS?

2018-11-19 15_00_23-Strawberry Slim Body Shake

Image: cutenutrition.com

The answers I received and general tone of the emails from the CEO were the most unprofessional I think I’ve ever received. I’ve contacted and worked with a number of brands and none of them responded as poorly as that. I’ve also worked in sales and marketing for more than ten years and have never come across a CEO who would respond in that manner.

As you may expect, I was unsatisfied with the responses to most of my questions and lodged a complaint with the ASA about the branding and product claims. My complaint was classified into three points:

  • Instagram posts not being identified as ads
  • The lack of substantiation regarding the #1 brand claim
  • The use of non-authorised health claims in relation to the “Fat Burner” product

I had also raised concerns about some of the statements on their product pages about body image and wording such as “Do you feel self conscious when you look in the mirror?” and “Get Cuter”. However the ASA did not address these as they have recently finished consulting on a new code rule concerning depictions of gender stereotypes which would cover issues such as those. As that process had not yet been completed, new investigations are being postponed except in exceptional circumstances.  One thing they did say is that they would keep a record of the points I raised to be considered as examples when implementing the new standards.

At the end of October the ASA told me that Cute Nutrition had agreed that their future advertising will comply with ASA Codes, and that:

“In respect of the Instagram issue, they confirmed that if the influencer is compensated with money or freebies, and if there’s editorial control on their part, they will ensure that the post contains #ad.

In respect of the health claims issue, they agreed to amend the ad to comply with the Codes.

In respect of the No.1 issue, we advised them that it was likely to be misleading unless they could substantiate that their products were best-selling.”

It has been three weeks since the ASA sent me this response but unfortunately nothing has changed on the Cute Nutrition website or social media at the time of writing. Advertisers usually get a month’s grace period to make the required changes, so rest assured I’ll be keeping an eye on things and will follow up with the ASA as needed.

I have also asked the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) to look into Cute Nutrition’s Fat Burner product, which they have said they will do so here’s hoping for a more positive outcome on that front.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks a lot for sticking with it and reading the post. It’s really important to me that brands like this are investigated in whatever shape or form that may take, particularly around branding, messaging, and product claims. The sad truth is that Cute Nutrition are one of many brands who are happy to tarnish the reputation of the industry and approach business from a profits over ethics standpoint.

The sports nutrition and health/fitness industry isn’t as well regulated as it should be and companies like Cute Nutrition are just stoking an already very unstable and unpredictable fire. Speaking of fire…

…if anyone finds out what a “fat burning cylinder” is, can you let me know? 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me Cutie 👄

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